HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Multiple mail collection boxes in the Metro Richmond area were tampered with over the weekend, according to a U.S. postal inspector.
Around 7 a.m., USPS received calls from post offices in Chesterfield, Henrico and Richmond regarding vandalism to their blue boxes outside their facilities.
In Henrico, police received a call around 7:26 a.m. for several collection boxes broken into in the 4900 block of Sadler Place.
“Obviously, it’s a concern; it’s a concern for us that we’ve got the mailboxes being tampered with,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Michael Romano.
“I saw the yellow tape and the boxes were blocked off and then I saw the news crews here,” said Mary Anne Pugh, a USPS customer. “So, I figured it must be something serious going on.”
Sometime between 3 p.m. Saturday and 7 a.m. Monday, Romano said mail was stolen out of the blue collection boxes in front of six post offices. Investigators canvassed the area to try and collect video surveillance of those responsible.
The six locations where these crimes occurred are as follows:
- 4990 Sadler Place (Glen Allen)
- 2000 Starling Drive (near Regency)
- 2100 E. Parham Road (Lakeside)
- 7510 Lady Blair Lane (North Chesterfield)
- 1201 Sycamore Square Dr (Midlothian)
- 805 Glenburnie Road (Westhampton area)
“It’s very concerning to me, because I think the post office is something we’ve always trusted,” Pugh said. “It’s named in the Constitution and is something we ought to make sure is safe and protected.”
“We’ve investigated cases like this before,” Romano said. “It tends to be groups of individuals looking for crimes of opportunity to tamper with the boxes and steal mail for their own personal gain.”
While Romano said mail theft is not a common occurrence, he did add it’s a “crime of opportunity” and comes in waves and patterns.
The last large-scale mail theft the USPIS investigated was back in July across Metro Richmond. However, the timing of this crime spree, has left many voters on edge.
“My first thought was that somebody was trying to get ballots,” Pugh said.
“We don’t have any indication at this time; we don’t have any information whether any of the boxes contained any sort of election mail,” Romano said. “What I can tell you is this, we treat every piece of mail with the highest regard and that everyone’s mail is important.”
However, Romano added if there’s any indication that there is a form of election fraud in this case, the FBI will be called in for assistance.
In all these cases Monday, Romano said the thieves may have used some sort of tool to pry the doors of the blue boxes open.
Meanwhile, maintenance has already repaired some of those collection bins and customers were dropping off their mail Monday afternoon.
However, Romano said this case is far from closed.
“This is what we do,” he said. “We investigate aggressively crimes that involve the U.S. mail, mail theft and mail fraud. If and when we locate these individuals, we will prosecute them to the highest degree.”
Theft of mail in the U.S. is a federal offense and punishable up to five years in prison for each count.
Romano added the safest way to send mail is to mail from inside the post office.
“Our lobbies are traditionally open so mail from inside,” he added. “If your mail carrier comes to your workplace or your door you can hand it to them directly. That’s another good method to get your mail in the hands of our postal carriers.”
The Virginia Department of Elections released a statement Monday afternoon regarding the USPS incidents.
“Neither the Department nor USPS has any information about whether any election mail was contained in the boxes,” said a spokesperson.
The Department of Elections urge anyone who dropped mail in the boxes at the post offices between 3 p.m. Saturday and 7 a.m. Monday to contact the USPS hotline at (877) 876-2455 to report it.
“If you mailed anything sensitive in nature or anything at all from these boxes, we need to know about it,” Romano said.
Additionally, voters can track their ballot online to see if it has been received by going to “check my registration” at the Dept. of Elections website. If a voter needs a new ballot issues, you should contact your local general registrar’s office.
Romano added there is typically a reward offered during mail theft investigations for individuals who share information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible. No details on a possible reward were announced Monday.
Additionally, Henrico County Commonwealth Attorney Shannon Taylor, released a statement regarding these crimes.
“Postal boxes are federal property and I am extremely dismayed and disturbed that they would be broken into,” she said. “Although they are federal property and, therefore, federal law enforcement will be handling the case, I will be following this case carefully and have offered my assistance to federal officials.”
If you plan to mail your absentee ballot in for the 2020 Election it must be postmarked by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3. Voters can also drop off their absentee ballots at their local registrar’s office.
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